SUBIC BAY HISTORY

A raucous rowdy liberty town

Posted 4 months ago

The late sixties and early ‘70s was the height of the Vietnam War and with Subic Bay playing a key role in the deployment of U.S. military servicemen there; Olongapo became a most accommodating host to thousands of servicemen out on liberty. In fact the bay in 1968 anchored a record 47 ships.

Magsaysay Drive of old in Olongapo (Photo credit to Dennis Clevenger)
It was during this time that Olongapo earned a reputation as a raucous and rowdy liberty town. Magsaysay Avenue from outside the Main Gate of the base was very much alive with its long stretch of bars and nightclubs, hotels, inns, and restaurants entertaining sailors mostly in their early 20s sometimes having their first taste of booze and even sex.

For U.S. military servicemen, especially those who enlisted just out from high school and then sent to the fleet immediately after boot camp, spending months at sea, or in the jungles of Vietnam, a rest and recreation activity in Olongapo is most sought after to relax and have some fun.

So many young enlisted personnel who had never stepped foot into a bar, tavern or nightclub were allowed to do so in this city. This was where many young men could test their endurance and capacity for consuming alcohol among other substances, since many weren’t of legal age stateside.

A former U.S. serviceman who has served in Subic quotes, “When off base, you were still responsible for being an “ambassador” for the United States, so there was some form of decorum and conduct you were expected to follow. Let’s just say there was some “leeway” in what was considered proper conduct, but if there’s one place on earth where you can act like an uncivilized animal, it was this place.”

Along the red light districts that are Magsaysay Drive and Rizal Avenue, these U.S. servicemen wantonly spend their money on booze and women. Indeed, pretty accurate were descriptions of this small Philippine city that appeared to pretty much survive on the money spent by soldiers, sailors and airmen looking to cut loose.